There is increasing evidence that warming trends have advanced wine grape harvest dates in recent decades (2). Across the globe, harvest dates advance approximately 6 days per degree of warming. Harvest dates are closely connected to the timing of grape maturation, which is highly sensitive to climate during the growing season. Specifically, warmer temperatures accelerate grapevine phenology over the full cycle of development (budburst, flowering, veraison and maturity), whereas increased precipitation tends to delay wine grape phenology (3). The earliest harvests thus generally occur in years where the growing season experiences warmer temperatures and drought (4).
High-quality wines are typically associated with early harvest dates in many of the cooler wine-growing regions, such as France (5), and are also favoured by warm summers with above-average early-season rainfall and late season drought. Overall, both precipitation (6) and temperature (7) contribute to wine quality and the timing of harvest (8), although temperature is the most critical factor influencing wine grape phenology (9).
In Switzerland, the mean annual temperature increased by 1.8°C between the beginning of temperature measurements in 1864 and 2016, and climate warming reached +0.57°C per decade from 1975 to 2004 (13). Thus, climate warming in Switzerland is currently more than twice the average over the Northern Hemisphere. The temperature rise is not uniform through the year: spring and summer are warming more than winter and autumn. This point is crucial for viticulture, as the vine growing season extends from 1 April to 31 October.
Harvest data in the period 1600–2007
Most research on the relation between climate and wine grape harvests has focused on relatively short, recent timescales, for example the past 30–40 years. Recently, over 400 years (1600–2007) of harvest data from Western Europe (France and Switzerland) have been analyzed. These data have been compared with (reconstructed and measured) data on temperature, precipitation and soil moisture over this period (1).
In this historical record, years with the latest and earliest harvest date were 1816 and 2003, respectively. 1816 was the so-called ‘Year without a Summer’ following the eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia. This eruption caused pronounced cooling over continental Europe during the growing season, with harvest dates delayed over three weeks. 2003 was one of the worst summer heat waves in recent history. Compared with the variability of harvest dates from one year to another in this historical record, average harvest dates were substantially earlier (about 10 days) in more recent decades (1981–2007) than in the previous 400 years (1).
Historically, high summer temperatures in Western Europe, which would hasten fruit maturation, required drought conditions to generate extreme heat. The relationship between drought and temperature in this region, however, has weakened in recent decades and enhanced warming from anthropogenic greenhouse gases can generate the high temperatures needed for early harvests without drought (1).
Grape harvest date and wine quality depend on a number of factors beyond climate, including wine grape varieties, soils, vineyard management, and winemaker practices (10). The analysis of the historical record suggests, however, that the large-scale climatic drivers within which these generally local factors act has fundamentally shifted. Such information may be critical to wine production as climate change intensifies over the coming decades in France, Switzerland, and other wine-growing regions (1).
Late spring frost is a severe risk during early plant development. It may cause important economic damage to grapevine production. In a warming climate, late frost risk either could decline due to the reduction in frost days and an advancement of the last day of frost or increase due to a more pronounced shift forward of the start of the active growing period of the plants. A study for the lower Swiss Rhone Valley shows that shifts in frost risk remain uncertain for the near future (the period 2021-2050 compared with 1961-1990): late spring frost risk may increase or decrease, depending on location and climate change projections (11).
Vineyards along Lake Neuchatel
Effects of climate change since 1900 have been studied for Neuchatel vineyards for two grape varieties: Pinot Noir and Merlot (12). These vineyards are located on the shores of Lake Neuchatel and Lake Biel, between 430 and 550 m a.s.l. Average growing season temperature (GST) is an indicator for grape variety suitability. GST increased by 0.56°C per decade since the 1970s. As a result, the climate of the Neuchatel region will become suitable for Merlot in the next decades while adaptation strategies are needed for Pinot Noir for which GST is becoming too high.
Adaptation strategies for viticulture in Switzerland are urgently needed under global warming. The climate of the Neuchatel region, for instance, has changed rapidly in the last years and has become favorable for more thermophilic varieties at lower elevations. A change in cultivated varieties, for example growing Merlot instead of Pinot noir in the Neuchatel region, could now become an adaptation strategy. A possible solution for varieties for which growing season temperature is becoming too high would be an upward elevational shift of vineyards. Winegrowers must also adapt to high interannual variability (12).
The references below are cited in full in a separate map 'References'. Please click here if you are looking for the full references for Switzerland.
- Cook et al. (2016)
- Jones and Davis (2000); Duchêne and Schneider (2005); Seguin and de Cortazar (2005); Schultz and Jones (2010); Tomasi et al. (2011); Camps and Ramos (2012); Webb et al. (2012), all in: Cook et al. (2016)
- Jones et al. (2013), in: Cook et al. (2016)
- Jones and Davis (2000), in: Cook et al. (2016)
- Jones and Davis (2000); Jones et al. (2005), both in: Cook et al. (2016)
- Van Leeuwen et al. (2009), in: Cook et al. (2016)
- Baciocco et al. (2014), in: Cook et al. (2016)
- Camps and Ramos (2012); Webb et al. (2012), both in: Cook et al. (2016)
- Jones et al. (2005), in: Cook et al. (2016)
- Jackson (1993); Van Leeuwen et al. (2013), both in: Cook et al. (2016)
- Meier et al. (2018)
- Comte et al. (2022)
- MeteoSwiss (2016); Rebetez and Reinhard (2008), both in: Comte et al. (2022)